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Union rep says board meeting won't speed strike end

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MOLINE, Ill. -- Deere & Co. directors Thursday listened politely to a representative of striking United Auto Workers, but a union negotiator was pessimistic the unusual meeting will speed the end of a record-long strike.

'The board was very courteous, they listened very attentively to our presentation,' said UAW officer Bill Casstevens after a 50-minute closed door meeting with the directors. 'They asked questions to make sure they understood our position.'

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The only action to come after the board meeting was a vote by the directors to cut dividends in half from 12.5 cents to 6.25 cents due to recently-announced record losses from the 111-day strike.

'Mr. Casstevens talked and the board listened and nothing more happened,' said Deere spokesman Bob Shoup.

Casstevens said the meeting should have cleared up any misunderstandings the company might have had about the union position but was pessimistic about the meeting's affect on ending the strike.

'We went in there to make sure they knew exactly where the union stood on this proposal because we have believed for a long time now that company negotiators have been making worst-case scenarios out of all of our proposals,' he said.

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The unusual address to the directors by Casstevens came on the same day the labor dispute became the longest strike ever against the giant farm implement maker.

The 111-day strike-lockout surpassed a 1950 UAW dispute that was the longest strike against the Moline-based firm. Jim Hecker, a UAW representative in Moline, called the milestone 'a dubious honor.'

Deere agreed to Casstevens' request last week to be allowed to address the board with the condition that a Deere representative would be allowed to appear at a meeting of the union's executive council.

The labor dispute, which has idled about 12,500 workers in Iowa and Illinois, began Aug. 23 when contract talks broke down and the UAW called a selective strike at Deere plants at Milan, Ill., and Waterloo and Dubuque in Iowa. The strike later was expanded to a John Deere parts company in East Moline.

Deere responded by declaring that a strike against one company plant was viewed as a strike against all and told union workers at 11 other plants not to show up for work, a move the union characterized as a lockout.

Talks have resumed twice since then but have broken down without an agreement -- the last impasse occurring last Wednesday when the two sides called off negotiations separated by issues involving about $17 million. At issue are job security, pension benefits and cost-of-living increases in a proposed 34-month agreement.

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